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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

ACCORDING TO GOLDBERG GABRIEL JOSIPOVICI, Goldberg: Variations (Carcanet), £9.95

`Autobiographies and most novels bore me because they are only too possible,' wrote Gabriel Josipovici in 1990. No doubt this is why his fiction since that time has tempted impossibility with ever more insistence. Both The Big Glass (1991) and Moo Pak (1994) record the attempts of two men, one an artist, the other a novelist, to create their own magnum opus. More specifically, they record, in each case, the efforts of a friend to record this recording. One copies extensive notes left by the dead artist, the other relays one-sided conversations with the novelist on long walks around London. By doing this, Josipovici's own struggle to create is displaced by implicit commentaries on his apparent failure to do so. For what are these recordings of recordings of recordings if not implicit admissions of failure?

His new novel Goldberg: Variations, ups the ante by featuring not one but two writers struggling with their latest work. While we do seem to be a long way from `most novels' here, a casual outline of part of the story - two writers tormented by writers block - doesn't indicate an alternative to the alleged `insularity' of literary fiction. Many general readers have already been warned off `writing about writing' by populists in the press; they will assume it represents `a failure to engage with the real world'. Yet, if a story is before us anyway: entertaining, stimulating, even moving, what kind of failure is it?

The answer perhaps ...


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